On Beauty

Recently I’ve had a discussion with a friend about the big topic of beauty, and especially how it is linked to women today.

Unfortunately I usually don’t have much to say about things how they are today, because I want to have a thoughtful opinion that validates and considered all aspects about a topic – and it’s rather difficult to be informed about all aspects. This is what makes me prefer to think about things from a philosophical point of view.

However, I still love discussing topics (as opposed to “arguing about them”). When discussing beauty we were coming from this question: Why do girls seem to care more about their looks (and think they are not pretty) than they used to? How come they are so aware about themselves?

First of all, to care about how you look and be as beautiful as possible, is biological. It’s about the survival of the sexiest, and it’s a matter of health.
Society, the people around you etc. (let’s call it nurture) then come in and tell you what beautiful is. And certainly this definition is everchanging. Just look at how people have been portrayed in the course of time.

Let’s talk about media, then. I’m kind of afraid to do this, because “let’s blame the media” has become such a tiresome thing… But media (being in a strange interplay and symbiosis with society) has its impact, especially on children.

Pretty people in media

We all know how models, singers etc. are retouched. If you don’t, have a look at this so you know why you can never look as pretty as the models in your favourite online dressing shop. And if people aren’t pretty on television, they are part of some degrading docusoap and are not only not pretty but dumb.

See the problem with this? By being above-average pretty and wearing above-average pretty things, a whole world is created, as if they are something special, as if they are something we should strive to be. If we want and need this kind of special world to gaze upon and desire, I’d like at least some de-prettyfication, de-glamourisation, so that other things can become defining and worth striving for. Intelligence, talent, kindness. Something like that maybe.

Not only is there this demand for pretty looks and things, but you get judged for it as well. By discussing the dresses and hairstyles of actors and judging them we are told that we can do the same with the people around us.

Now, we live in a strange world. There are a lot of contrary movements. Catalogues without retouched models. Mannequins that are modelled after the bodies of disabled people. TV hosts showing (on air) what they look like without the make-up and perfect lighting. This is being talked about, and I like that a lot. 🙂 On the other hand there is a lot of ultra-craziness. It’s a time of extremes, I think.

So what to do about it?

First of all I think we need an understanding for what is going on. Why do we do the things we do, why do we think the way we do. If we understand that beauty products exist to make money for those who sell it, and not to make you beautiful  it empoweres you in your own consciousness and decisions.

We need more of these positive examples of people doing things differently, so that slowly but surely it changes the norm. We need Beyoncé saying “so what, that infamous picture doesn’t touch me”. We need media promoting diversity by using actors that don’t all look the same (and behave the same, within their stereotypical roles).

We need to use globalisation and our connectedness for the good. Not for creating a totalitarian standard of what looks good and what looks bad, but to broaden our horizons. Just imagine – some time ago we didn’t even have access to other cultures and how they define beauty, so we were limited to our own culture’s definition. Now we have access to all kinds of (cultural and historical) thoughts and definitions. We need to be educated about that so that people understand that our views on beauty today are not absolute and that very different things can be considered beautiful. So that everybody can question and find their own, personal ideals more easily. I think globalisation’s chance is diversity.

There is also a difference between prettiness and beauty that has to be understood. Prettiness is mediocrity, it’s being the “most average”. That’s why (at least at the first look) you find the altered ladies in the bottom row more attractive.
I’ve written about beauty once before, quoting Schiller who defines beauty as balance. A beautiful person would be a person who can balance their desires and impulses on the one hand, and their intellect on the other hand. If we can do this, we have a foundation from which we can decide what’s the right thing to do. Beauty is more holistic than prettiness. It’s about the inside and the outside. It’s about the soul.

If we consider all of this, we stop judging so much. You’re a man and want to pluck your eyebrows? Sure, why not. You’re a woman and don’t feel like shaving every hair that dares to grow on your body? Just go ahead! No time or wish for your prettifying morning routine? Don’t worry, we all have these days. You don’t want to be defined as either male or female by your looks? Good on ya.

Let’s enjoy and learn from our differences.


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